Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Unimportant List

by Alyssa Verner

In high school, I had a teacher who would say that someone or something "just made it to the top of [her] Unimportant List." I thought it was a great phrase, and my best friend Debbie and I actually started an Unimportant List.

Adding a thing or situation to The List was a way of recognizing that it wasn't worth our time, energy, or disappointment. It was cathartic to recognize it and move on. Debbie recently gave me a copy of The List, and over the past fifteen years, we've added an astounding 252 things.

It's interesting to see the chronology. In 1998, we were in high school, and it was mostly schoolwork and the frustrations of the cafeteria. There are a few things high school classmates did on there and neither of us even remember who they are. Life really DOES exist after high school. For example:

7. Essays and Hamlet and Heart of Darkness and St. Joan and Beowulf and summer reading and understanding poetry and analyzing it to death (Note: I actually like all of this literature now. Except Heart of Darkness--that still sucks.)
21. The lunch lady who acts all stingy with the apple juice.

This continued through 1999, as we prepared to go to college. I applied early decision to JMU, and even though I was eventually accepted, I was angry at the first rejection.

34. James Madison University

Then there were the college years:

80. People who puke in the elevators
84. Fire drills
88. My college boyfriend that broke up with me over instant messenger
128. Professors who don't make finals "non-cumulative"
129. The deviants at Virginia Tech who stole the toaster from the kitchen
145. 8 o'clock classes
179. mtv2 for always playing commercials

Usually the entries are funny, but one stands out. September 14, 2001:

159. Terrorists

After college, of course we got jobs, paid taxes, found places to live, and endured commuting:

213. Debbie's Leasing Office (except for their cookies)
216. Route 3 and I-95
220. Use of poor grammar
226. House prices that no reasonable salaried person/couple can afford in their lifetime
233. Anyone who creates more work for me
236. Congress
246. Beautiful weather on workdays

It makes me wonder what will end up on The List in the next decade. I'm going to guess things like dealing with insurance companies or having medical procedures. It's interesting how something SO important at the time is so insignificant now.

And finally, can things come off The List? Yes--they frequently do. What the heck were we thinking with these?

91. Mexican food
94. New Orleans
133. Starbucks hot chocolate
169. Flared pants

And so, not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a lot to be said for maturity, for forgiveness, for being grateful, and finally, for delicious, delicious tacos.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

WbtR 1st Annual Authors’ Retreat

May 18, 2013 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
At Carol Covin's House, 12510 Izaak Walton Drive, Bristow, Virginia
(703) 330-5478 (home)

From Carol Covin, Granny Guru:  I am offering my house for a one-day, 12-hour retreat. 

Rules: Since we are spanning lunch and dinner, bring a dish to share (hot or cold) and drinks to share. I'll put out food as well and pitchers of well water.  I have a counter where you can grab something to eat, then go back to your writing, or stay and talk awhile.  Bring your own writing utensils. I have pens, paper and pencils, but I know you have your own favorites. No other rules.

Getting there: Most GPS programs will get you to my mailbox at the bottom of the hill that is my driveway.
To get there, you have turned on to Izaak Walton Drive, gone about a block and a half, just past Jay Lane, to the bottom of the hill, at the bend in the road. On the right, is my mailbox, 12510. When you get to the mailbox, turn right, go to the top of the hill, turn left, staying on the blacktop and follow the driveway to my house, the only house there. If you find you have driven onto gravel, off the blacktop, you have gone too far and are going to the Izaak Walton League next door. Come back onto the blacktop and turn through the woods toward my house. If you find you are at a cul-de-sac and see horses and Tyco Lane, you have gone too far. That is at the end of Izaak Walton Drive. Come back to the bend in the road, just before Jay Lane, and turn left to go up the hill on my driveway.

The venue:   I have 9 acres, 8 of it wooded. I have a front porch with a swinging bench and a wind chime, and a back deck that spans the length of the house and overlooks woods, part of which is screened in, with tables and chairs and a hammock.  I have a living room with art, books and teddy bears, a den with a floor for grandchildren to ride rolling hassocks on and books and another den in the basement for ping pong and projects, with books, all of which are suitable for curling up on a couch or chair to write.  I have a cleared back yard overlooking a creek with a cement picnic table and chairs that can be moved anywhere you want them that is the kind of retreat most people drive hours to relax in, at the bottom of a 100-foot sledding hill. I have a half-acre garden half-way up the hill in the front yard with big trees you can write under. I have Wi-Fi. It reaches a little ways outside, to the porches, but probably not down to the creek or up to the garden. 

It is a place to write, think, dream, research, be quiet, talk or eat.

You are welcome to wander around before deciding on your spot and use chairs that are already there or bring some from the house.  Most chairs will have a table nearby where you can spread out your materials. I have stacks of blankets and pillows to get comfy. There is nothing you have to do that will keep you from writing. It is just a space to hold you. You make the magic.  If you spot a dust bunny, don't tell me about it. It is just minding its own business.

If you tell me you're coming on my Facebook Events page, with a comment or by accepting the invitation, that will help me have some idea of how many to expect. https://www.facebook.com/events/157136424463499

Write by the Rails – 4.18.13 Meeting Notes (and updates)

OFFICERS. Cindy Brookshire – President/Treasurer; Linda Johnston – Projects Manager/Liaison to Virginia Writers Club; Katherine Gotthardt – Liaison to the PWC Arts Council; Carol Keily – Membership Coordinator

WRITERS PRESENT. We changed the meeting agenda. Writers introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting. Cindy Brookshire, Carol Covin, June Forte, Katherine Gotthardt, Linda Johnston, Charles Sutherland, Dan Verner, Val Wallace.

CONTINUING BUSINESS. Arts Alive! 2013 went very well – we had 18 writers participating in book sales, readings and/or education sessions for children (poetry and storyboarding). Over 3,000 people attended. Rheta Van Winkle, a reviewer for BookLoons.com stopped by and picked up a copy of The Forgotten Mourners by Magdaline DeSousa (aka John’s Sister)’s to review. Rheta invited anyone with a new book coming out (or out recently) to query BookLoons.com managing editor Hilary Williamson at Editor@bookloons.com. If Hilary can interest one of her reviewers in your book, she will have one contact you. Bob Chase, manager of Prospero’s Bookstore in Old Town Manassas also stopped by the booth. He said Rodney Jordan will be signing his book, Tired of Being Black, at the store during the May 3 Gallery Walk. Local Writers Directory – 20 writers responded. Have not seen directory yet from Robin Tucker. The online Book Nook columns for Prince William Living magazine are going well. Dan is reading Charles Sutherland’s reality novel, The Poison Planters and will post a review. No new news on the Parlor Readings at Manassas Junction B&B (Katherine Gotthardt) or the Read Local QR-code poster at Grounds Central Station (Nick Kelly/Linda Johnston.)

NEW BUSINESS. The FY14 New Emerging Arts Grant application has been delivered to the PWC Arts Council. Thanks to Leigh Giza, Linda Johnston, Carole Keily and Dan Verner for their hard work on the grant and the Five-Year Strategic Plan. The grant panel will review our application in May. In June, they will give their recommendations to the Board of County Supervisors. If we receive the grant, the funds (up to $1,000) will be distributed after July 1 as soon as possible after the new fiscal year begins. Among the programming we proposed is a full-day writers conference for 60 writers in the July 2013-June 2014 time frame. Comcast grant - Boys & Girls Club summer workshop is not happening, however we may be able to do the workshop anyway if we receive the arts council grant. May 3 Gallery Walk – Author’s Alley at The Things I Love in Old Town Manassas. Dan Verner arranged our participation in this event. Writers signed up to read on the terrace behind the store from 6 pm to 9:30 pm. If you missed this signup, you may be able to participate in other upcoming events. June Kilpatrick is working with the Harris Pavilion in Old Town Manassas to have writers read from their works during “Tuesday Take Out” from 6 pm to 8 pm on July 2.) Summer Shorts Contest and Golden Nib Contest rules have been posted on the chapter website and the Virginia Writers Club website. June Forte is securing judges for the first tier of the Golden Nib, including educator Lillian Orlich, who has served the PWC Public Schools for 60 years, and Poet Laureate of Virginia Sofia Starnes. The first author announced to participate in GMU’s Fall for Book Festival event @ Hylton Center on Sept 26 is Write by the Railer Claudia LaFeve, along with her chef “hubs” who works at Market Salamander in Middleburg. Other authors and foodies to be announced.

Upcoming Events

May 3 – 6 to 9:30 pm – Author’s Alley readings at The Things I Love, Manassas

May 3 – 7 pm – Rodney Jordan (Tired of Being Black) at Prospero’s Books, Manassas

May 3 – 7 pm until – Open mic reading at Deja Brew in Haymarket

May 4 – 2 to 4 pm - Local Authors Fair, Bull Run Library

May 7 – 2 to 4 pm – WbtR Meet and Greet at Panera in Merchant Shopping Center, Lake Ridge

1st Annual Authors’ Retreat

May 18, 2013 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

At Carol Covin's House, 12510 Izaak Walton Drive, Bristow, Virginia

(703) 330-5478 (home) Everyone welcome, but RSVP please.

Be prepared to WRITE.

June 1 - Authors at 19th Annual Heritage Railway Festival in Old Town Manassas. Contact Doug Horhota, Manassas Museum, 703-257-8265 if you want a free table on the lawn or Stuart Schadt has a table on the street and is looking for one or two more writers to join him ($18.50 each).

July 2 – 6 to 8 pm – WbtR reads at Tuesday Takeout at the Harris Pavilion

Aug 3 – VWC “Navigating Your Writing Life” Symposium at Piedmont Virginia Community College in the Dickinson Fine & Performing Arts Center, Charlottesville.

Aug 24 & 25 – Authors at Civil War at the Junction. Contact Doug Horhota, Manassas Museum, 703-257-8265.

SPEAKER. Our speaker was June Forte, NVCC-Woodbridge instructor and former president of the Virginia Writers Club. June gave her tips on “The Art of the Interview.” It was interesting to hear June’s advice, and then watch a skype interview the next day that Carole Bellacera did with S. Luke Abaffy on Author Feast: The Writer Show – http://www.authorfeast.com/uncategorized/episode-24-carole-ballecera-talks-regaining-book-rights-and-making-audio-books/). For example, June said before the interview starts, make sure you’ve written down the title of your book, where to buy it, and have the book there to show on screen – even put a sticky note at a good selection, so you’re ready to go if you’re asked to read. Carole was very prepared.

More of June’s Tips (for radio, TV or print interviews)

· Research the media online or at library - 2013 Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media.

· Send a news release with a news angle that shows you know their audience and convince them you have what they need. Tell them you are available for last minute bookings.

· Write hometown releases to all the places you’ve lived, including your university magazine.

· Pick your best time for the interview – if you aren’t sharp until after lunch, schedule it then. If you’re a morning person, schedule it first thing. Get there early.

· Outline on paper the interview YOU want, and be ready to steer the conversation to those talking points. Talk at a 10th grade reading level.

· Dress up, whether anyone can see you or not. Wear makeup, whiten your teeth, smile. Wear solid, soft colors, not white, stripes or bold patterns. Don’t distract from your message. Don’t slump. Don’t touch the microphone. For a call in show, know that you are on the air as soon as you answer the phone.

· Use your books as props, with them facing the camera.

· Include the audience in your statements, such as “many listeners are familiar with this genre” or “well, I know this is a big farm community.” Converse like a close friend and have good eye contact.

· Bring along a media kit that includes a bio sketch of you and a copy of the book cover mounted on a black background (ready to go in front on a camera)

· Send a thank you note to the interviewer!

· Keep a tape or link to your interview and use it to promote yourself.

NEXT MEETING. Thursday, May 16 at 7 pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 9325 West Street, Manassas. Speaker: Tamela Ritter, author of the recently released “From These Ashes.”

For more information, email writebytherails@gmail.com or visit www.writebytherails.org.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

by Leigh Giza

Mother, Earth
Today is your day
All who come from you
Have need to honor you
Without you we cease to be
We are only seeds that never open
We look in a mirror and see ourselves
When in reality we are your reflections
For you are in everything we see and do
Our mother, our creator, you give us our lives
Without asking us to give you anything in return
Today, we celebrate your limitless love for each of us
We pay tribute to you, our mother, made from soil and sky

May 3 and 4 are busy days for us!

Heads up!  Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, Write by the Rails members will be taking part in a myriad of local activities.  Join us in readings, signings, discussion and art appreciation!

May 3

6-9:30 pm

  • Members will be reading in Authors Alley during the Manassas Gallery Walk (on the terrace behind The Things I Love, 9084-9086 Center Street). Stroll around Old Town Manassas, check out local art, do some shopping, and then listen to readings by your fellow railers. 
7 pm
  • Rodney Jordan, author of Tired of Being Black, will be reading and signing his book at Prospero's Books (9129 Center St.) during the Gallery Walk. 

7 pm and beyond

  • Take part in Open Mic Night at Deja Brew (5311 Merchants View Square, Haymarket).  Share your best short fiction, poetry, shopping lists or political rants. The mic opens at 7:00, and we’ll stay up as late as we must to get everyone a shot at airing out their scribbles. Oh, and these days, Deja Brew serves wine and beer to accompany all your favorite desserts and high-test coffees. Hosted by Piedmont Writers.

May 4
noon-2 pm

  • Member Katherine Gotthardt will sign her newly released (traditional text) book, Weaker Than Water, as well as her older books, including Poems from the Battlefield, in front of Prospero's Books (9129 Center St. Manassas).

2-4 pm
  • Bull Run Regional Library will hold a Local Author Fair at Bull Run Regional Library (8051 Ashton Avenue in Manassas).  Chat with and purchase books from

Philippa Ballantine
Tom Basham
Carole Bellacera
Paul Berger
Carol Covin
Magdaline Desousa
Stephen Dittmer
Christyna Hunter
Edward R. Janusz
Margaret P. Johnston
Marvin Josaitis
June Pair Kilpatrick
Elanor Kindred
Ellen H. Korin
Claire Machosky
Tee Morris
Peter Ochs
Genilee Swope Parente
Lindsey Poppe
Laurel Porterfield
Ron Rauss
Tamela J. Ritter
Robert Rudney
Stuart Schadt
Robert Scott
Maria D. Stewart
F. Sharon Swope
April Wensinger
Gail Williams
Iris Williams
JD Winston

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Virginia Writers Club’s Summer Short Shorts Contest

Fiction - A short story not to exceed 1,200 words
Non-fiction - A personal essay not to exceed 1,200 words
Poetry - Any form not to exceed 30 lines


· Only members of the statewide Virginia Writers Club who have paid their membership dues for 2013 may enter the contest.

· Entries, sent electronically, will be accepted from May 1 through June 30, 2013.

· A writer may submit only one entry per category.

· Entry must be the original unpublished work of the writer.

· Winners will be announced at the 3 August 2013 VWC Symposium in Charlottesville, followed by a posting of winners on the VWC website.


· Entries must be in Times New Roman 12 sent as an e-mail attachment. Illustrations will not be accepted or considered.

· Prose must be double-spaced with a ragged right margin; poetry must be single-spaced with a flush left margin.

· No information identifiable to the author should be included in the body of the entry.

· The e-mail message to which the work is attached must include the title of the piece and category, the author's name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. An author's biography of no more than 50 words should be included in the e-mail message.

The e-mail should be sent to contest coordinator Gary Kessler at gdkess@mindspring.com. An acknowledgment of receipt will be sent; if you don’t receive one, recheck.

Entry constitutes permission to publish the winning essay in a future edition of a Virginia Writers Club publication or on the Virginia Writers Club website. Acceptance of the prize money constitutes waiver of any and all further compensation for first publication rights. Remaining rights are the property of the author. Authors retain all rights to non-winning entries.